Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Mak Andam.

Lately, I've been bugged to find a mak andam (because apparently the best ones get booked first!) and since I've always had a nagging disturbing feeling about this Malay custom, I did a bit of research. By serendipity a friend posted a terribly fascinating article on the Malay custom of Potong Andam, with more details here.

In pre-Islamic times of the Malays, this ritual was carried out before the wedding to ascertain if the bride was a virgin, which consequently says something about the happiness and longevity of the marriage -- bccause virginity is important, even more than emotional maturity or financial stability.

I trawled through this fascinating Multiply site of a mak andam who posts reviews from her clients. Reading through dozens of reviews, it seems that some brides change their wedding date just to hire their preferred certain mak andam on their wedding day. This mak andam plays multiple roles -- being a wedding coordinator for the day (both in the professional and cultural sense since she ensures the adherence to traditional wedding protocol), make-up artist, on-the-spot counselor to give tips on wedding life, as well as a bridesmaid to make the bride calm, comfortable and wipe away her tears and sweat with on-hand tissues.

Because make-up makes you beautiful.

One phrase that repeatedly came up in the reviews is 'naikkan seri', literally 'bringing out radiance' (which has roots in making a bride look virginal/chaste just in case she really isn't, according to the potong andam rites of seeing which way her hair curls). It's interesting to see how 'seri'  has been discursively picked up when talking about making a bride beautiful, without realising its superstitious roots.

I can understand the part about making the wedding day the most important and historical day of the bride's life. I don't mean to be pessimistic, but it's just the first day of a long process that is marriage. Plus, with all the divorces happening left and right in Malay society (and top two reasons for divorce is money and drifting apart), it seems that this great emphasis on the bride's preparation for the wedding day (resulting in a drain in finances) is not helping.

Let's not forget the groom - he doesn't get anyone to give him tips on how to handle the wedding day. He, in the words of an observer, "has not been touched and suddenly looks 'surprisingly' dark and brown" in pictures taken with his shining bride. He's surely got all kinds of nerves thinking about how to execute the wedding contract smoothly, not tripping over the carpets, not calling the elders by the wrong names, etc. Someone give him a Pak Andam (who can sometimes be played by the husband of the Mak Andam)!

The ensuring of wedding protocol also serves to ensure that customs are passed down 'properly'. It also makes it harder to do things your own way, even if you feel that you have good reason to not follow adat. Nevermind that the mak andam is a lady hired to do all this, who is often not related to the bride or the family at all, you must listen to her (and also random religious men) to tell you what you can or cannot do on your wedding. It's so dangerous to use your mind.

I agree that outsourcing certain skills in society like how to succeed in marriage (among other things) is not a common thing. In fact, in one class last term we discussed the sexual initiation rituals among the Baganda people in Uganda. There are certain women in society that are considered to possess all the knowledge relating to sex or marriage and families send their daughters to learn from them. And if they come back not knowing enough, the specialists will have to answer for it!

I would personally prefer to have people with whom I have a meaningful relationship give me advice when I request it, rather than take it (unsolicited) from a total stranger, especially in personal issues like this. There are important people in my life with whom I would like to share an important day. Blind deference to authority is not that fun.


Anonymous said...

Do you have any contacts of Experience Mak Andam in doing potong Andam? I'm looking for one..
Please let me know if yes. tq~
email me - nurika_atriana@hotmail.com

Joanna Koh said...

Thanks for your amazingly informative (and opinionated!) article on mak andams :) I've been reading about malay wedding customs these few days and yours has been the best article so far! :) thanks


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